McConaughy and Hughes Untouchable at the Cocodona 250

The Cocodona 250, a “250-mile ultra run across Arizona,” was held May 2 to 6, 2022, primarily on trails from Prescott to Flagstaff, AZ. The event was organized by Aravaipa Running headquartered in Phoenix, AZ. Only in its second year, the Cocodona 250 has already become one of the premier 200-mile plus trail running events in the country and this year drew many of the country’s top elite trail ultrarunners including Annie Hughes, Brianna Grigsby, Michael McKnight, Joe McConaughy and defending mens’ champion Michael Veersteeg. It is the only 200-plus mile event to feature live streaming. If you missed the race you can watch a recap of the live-streaming.

Cocodona 250

Cocodona 250 start.

The Course
Due to the un-contained Crooks Fire burning south of Prescott, AZ, this year’s course was altered from its original point-to-point from Black Canyon City to Flagstaff, AZ. The race organizers describe the alternate route in more detail, “With access between Crown King and Prescott essentially cut off due to this current closure, we have designed a backup/alternative course that will allow us to still hold the race. The alternate course starts in Prescott outside of the closure area and rejoins the current course just a few miles prior to the Whiskey Row aid station. This new course features a much more comprehensive tour of the incredible single track and forest roads above and to the West of the City of Prescott including a trip down to Skull Valley and back.”

The course was shortened slightly (256.9 miles to 250.4) and included more than 40,000 feet of elevation gain and 34,000 feet of descent. Altitudes ranged from 3,000 to over 9,000 feet on a mix of mostly single and double track trails. Runners had 122 hours to complete the course.

Runners had access to twenty-one aid stations spread along the course, several of which included sleep stations with cots where athletes could rest. To increase the event’s sustainability, all aid stations were “cup-less” (no paper cups were provided and participants were required to carry their own bottles or other water-carrying vessels) and each aid station also provided recycling and Terracycling of wrappers. Carbon offsets were purchased for staff travel during the event.

Cocodona 250

Cocodona 250 aid stations.

Elite Preview:
The success of Cocodona’s inaugural year in 2021 attracted a stellar lineup of elite runners, and several top ten finishers from last year’s event. The womens’ field included 2021 Leadville 100 and 2021 Moab 240 Champion Annie Hughes, fifth place finisher from last year’s event, Sarah Ostaszewski, runner-up at the 2021 Javelina Jundred, Brianna Grigsby, and Coldwater Rumble runner-up Lauren Jones. The mens’ lineup included defending champion Michael Veersteeg, sponsored Brooks athlete Joe McConaughy, 2019 200 Mile Triple Crown Winner Michael McKnight, 2017 JFK 50 Mile Champion Eric Senseman and top American finisher at the 2018 Tor de Géants Matt Smith.

Elite Race Recap: McConaughy and Hughes Untouchable at the Cocodona 250

Day 1
On day one, many of the predicted top contenders, McConaughy, Versteeg, Ostaszewski, Hughes and McKnight, were all in contention to win the race. At Whiskey Row aid station, mile 60.7, the field of elites began to spread out for the first time. By this point in the race, McConaughy led, followed closely by Hughes two miles behind. Hughes was already nearly ten miles ahead of her nearest female competitors Ostaszewski and Grigsby. Defending champion Versteeg unfortunately had to withdraw at the Whiskey Row aid station due to back pain. Other top contenders at the end of the first day included Jason Koop, Kilian Korth, Jeff Garnie and Kevin Goldberg. For the lead pack of runners, the first day finished with the climb to Mingus Mountain at nearly 8,000 feet, one of the most difficult climbs in the race.

Day 2
Top race contenders began day two with steep technical descents from the top of Mingus Mountain into Jerome Aid Station at mile 109, followed by hot exposed sections of desert singletrack continuing until mile 130. Throughout the second day, McConaughy increased his lead on the nearest competitor by over ten miles. Hughes and Koop leapfrogged for the second place overall position, while Lauren Jones made a strong move early in the day to overtake Ostaszewski and Grigsby for second place in the women’s’ race. After experiencing stomach troubles on day one, McKnight bounced back and moved steadily into the top ten then top five overall.

Day 3
On day three, the front runners ascended from the hot desert climate into cooler temperatures in the ponderosa pines of the Coconino Forest near Munds Park and Flagstaff, AZ. On the climb from Sedona to Munds Park (miles 145 to 171), McKnight continued to stay strong and passed both Hughes and Koop to take the second place overall position. McConoughy extended his lead further and charged up the final climb on Mount Elden then descended to the finish in downtown Flagstaff for the win in 59 hours and 28 minutes. Hughes and Koop remained within three miles from one another until late in the evening when Hughes was able to extend the gap to more than five miles. Jones continued to run strong and moved into the top ten overall while Ostazweski and Grigsby ran in the top twenty overall.

Day 4
After a short nap in the middle of the night at Walnut Canyon aid station (mile 233), McKnight pushed strongly over Mount Elden and into the finish in the early morning hours to place second overall in 65 hours and 39 minutes. Hughes rounded out the overall podium and finished first in the women’s race in 71 hours and 10 minutes, cruising the last several miles in under eight minute per mile pace. Also during the early morning hours Matt Stiles passed Koop and finished in 73 hours and 1 minute. Jones and Ostaszewski rounded out the womens’ podium in 78 hours and 34 minutes and 84 hours and 21 minutes respectively.

Cocodona 250

Cocodona 250 participant.

Male Top Five

  1. Joe McConaughy – 59:28
  2. Mike McKnight – 65:39
  3. Matt Smith – 73:01
  4. Kevin Goldberg – 74:24
  5. Jeff Garmie – 75:05

Female Top Five

  1. Annie Hughes – 71:10
  2. Lauren Jones – 78:34
  3. Sarah Ostaszewski – 84:21
  4. Rhoda Smoker – 89:06
  5. Stephanie Simpson – 89:46

Full race results at

Cocodona 250

Joe McConaughy wins the men’s Cocodona 250.

Race winners McConaughy and Hughes said about their first Cocodona 250 experiences:

“Running 250 miles is pretty ridiculous, but so are a lot of things in life…every turn had something new and amazing, a beautiful view and a fun section of singletrack, an enticing looking spot under a pine tree for a quick dirt nap…it isn’t all smiles (sleep deprivation, GI distress and heat suck!), but then again what else would you expect when you sign up for 250 miles?” -McConaughy

“Cocodona was everything I hoped it would be and more. Aravaipa Running did the most incredible job, and the atmosphere of the race was full of so much energy and encouragement. I felt like I had everything dialed going into Cocodona after having the experience of running the Moab 240 last year. I knew the kind of mental and physical grit it takes to get through a race this long, and I had the most amazing support crew to help me execute my plan.” -Hughes

All finishers received a branded belt buckle and podium finishers earned a hand-carved wooden trophy. The next edition of the Cocodona 250 will take place on May 1 to 6, 2023 and registration will be available soon. There are no specific registration requirements but participants are advised to have some through-hiking or ultrarunning experience.

Are you curious about 200-plus mile racing? Check out Tayte’s article “Got 200 mile questions? Tayte Pollmann has answers.”

Tags: , ,